Should Minimum Wage Implementers Be Jailed?

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by Walter Block via International Man


Notice the question posed above mentions implementers, not supporters. The latter consists of, what? 95% of the electorate? We can document that some 2/3 of the voters favor a minimum wage of $15. It is my estimate that virtually all voters favor this law at some level. That is, perhaps at most 5% of those who cast a ballot favor wiping this enactment entirely from the law books.

The former, in sharp contrast, consist of at most a few hundred people, perhaps 1000 at most. It would consist of all the senators and congressmen who passed this legislation, the judges who rule in its favor, the police who arrest those who violate it, and the jailers who incarcerate them.

Assume, arguendo if you must, that the effect of this legislation is not to raise anyone’s wage. Rather, it is to create unemployment for all those whose discounted marginal revenue productivity is less than the level stipulated by law. At present, federal law requires that at least $7.25 be paid to all employees. But there are some people, mainly young, minority group members, the mentally and physically disabled, whose productivity is less than that. If this law is boosted to $15, it is likely that far more people will be consigned to lives of permanent unemployment. The minimum wage is not akin to a rising floor, which raises pay scales. Rather, it resembles a hurdle over which the worker must “jump” with his productivity to obtain a job in the first place and keep it thereafter.

Remember, we are positing for the sake of argument that all of this is true and that arguments to the contrary are complete balderdash.

Assume now the entire absence of any minimum wage law (the first one in the U.S. was passed in 1938; before that, it just did not exist.) Suppose I purchased a big powerful weapon with an indefinitely large amount of ammunition and had not only nine lives like a cat but millions of them. I then went to every potential employer of unskilled workers and made the following threat to them: employ any of these people, and I’ll shoot you. I also traveled to the inner cities and other places where unskilled workers are to be found and threatened to murder any of them who became employed.

How would I be regarded? Obviously, under these assumptions, I would be a criminal. I need not ever have to pull any trigger. The mere threats that I made would render me a very serious law-breaker. I did not act in this way to benefit myself financially. I did not ask, nor demand of any of them, that they pay me a single penny. I just have a hatred for the economically “differently-abled,” and I want them to lead miserable unemployed lives. Ok, ok, I’m a bit of a weirdo, I admit it, but the economic analogy holds.

However, I am still a felon. I still had no right to assault businessmen and the unskilled in this despicable manner.

Now, let us return to the real world. Most of those who favor this legislation do so out of economic ignorance. They think this law will actually raise wages on more than a very temporary basis (when the law was last roughly doubled, from $.40 to $.75 in 1949, all elevators were manually operated; were these people fired the very next day? No. It takes a while to substitute automatic machinery for these workers).

If all supporters favor this malicious evil law, they are innocent of any crime; economic illiteracy is not criminal behavior. If they directly voted for this law, then, yes, they deserve a visit to the hoosegow, just as I did when I acted in a manner that brings about the very same result: forced joblessness for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Fortunately for such voters, we have secret ballots in this country, and people are innocent of a crime unless they are proven guilty; here, we can have no proof of their vicious behavior.

But not all ballots are secret. Those that occur in our legislatures are a matter of public record. And then there are judicial findings in favor of this law, which are equally available to all and sundry. I fail to see the relevant difference between what I did in that made-up scenario and what these people are guilty of. Oh, yes, I was a criminal, and they are certainly not, given our present laws. But that is not a relevant difference. That is not justice. These people should be made to pay for their crimes.

There is all the difference in the world between me wanting to jail implementers of minimum wage laws and lefties trying to imprison climate deniers. I favor free speech for supporters of this law but not for implementers. Ditto for Nazi or Communist supporters, not for those who impose these philosophies upon others.

To learn more about Professor Walter Block’s ideas on economics and liberty, check out his must read classic Defending the Undefendable. I guarantee you will never see the world the same again!

Reprinted with permission from International Man.